The dust of modern life
PerSo Award

By Franziska von Stenglin
Germany, 2021, 82’

Wednesday, Oct. 05, Zenith Cinema, Via Benedetto Bonfigli 5, 5:30 p.m.
(Repeat) Thursday, Oct. 06, Postmodernissimo Cinema, Via del Carmine 4, 3 p.m.

Original Title: Pa Va Hêng

Director: Franziska von Stenglin

Production: Franziska von Stenglin & Lucas Tothe Punchline

Editors: Zuniel Kim & Marylou Vergez

Sound design: Christian Wittmoser

Sound recording: Nguyễn Ngọc Tân

Assistant camera: Nguyễn Manh Thắng

Production manager: Nguyễn Thị Xuân Trang

Production assistants: Trương Minh Quý, Bùi Hoàng Nga

Associate producers: Umlaut Films & Cinegrell Postfractory


The Dust of Modern Life is a film about the universal human desire to retreat from society. Once a year, Liem a 29-year-old young man from the Sedang ethnic minority, retreats to a jungle in the mid-highland mountains of Vietnam with his friends. Leaving his normal life behind–a life made of smart phones, motorbikes, a wife, two young children, domestic duties and hard work in the fields–, he goes into a primeval forest to live like his ancestors once did: hunting and gathering. This is a time from his daily responsibilities, during which he regains energy and health, purifying himself of the dust of modern life.


As a white person, I am aware of the pitfalls in making a documentary film about an ethnic minority somewhere half a world away. I am not making this film in the hopes of preserving a dying culture or to highlight the disastrous effects deforestation has on the central highlands. I am not an activist or an anthropologist. Although these are all important topics that do appear in the film in some way, I am making this film because the ritualised retreat that the Sedang have been practising for generations stands as a metaphor for our very personal yet universal need to retreat, as human beings living under the growing pressures of capitalism and globalisation. In our contemporary society, competition is a characteristic that defines human relationships. It praises

accomplishments and punishes inefficiency. But this relentless pressure is not just something that comes from others, it is so fundamentally part of our society that we impose it on ourselves. We always feel that we should be productive or doing something and, as a result, even our time outside of modern society is utilised to heighten our work performance. We are always reachable and constantly bombarded by a neverending flow of information, videos and images found on social networks, resulting in a state of exhaustion and paralysis. We are continuously pestered by our smartphones: the ringing of calls, the buzzing of texts, the pinging of emails and alarms reminding us to do something. This is why spending real time outside of our routine has become more urgent than ever and more impossible than ever at the same time.

The Dust of Modern Life shows how globalisation now manifests itself everywhere, even in remote places such as Dak Sau. Although we watch Liem during his retreat in a foreign, ’exotic‘ location, the pressures he experiences in his daily life and the feelings he enjoys during his retreat–inner calm, regained strength–are relatable, fundamentally human experiences that can be universally understood and with which one can identify. The rhythm of the film mirrors Liem’s calm attitude. However, it is constantly interrupted by the reminders of modernity: loud speakers, parties, TV, youtube and smartphones. The sound design is a fundamental tool that will be used to accentuate these interruptions as well as to help us experience Liem’s journey in a sensorial way: from daily life to his inner retreat. I made the choice of shooting the film on super 16mm, because of the depth and richness of its colour, which will highlight the intensity of Liem’s experience. What my audience will see on the cinema screen will set itself apart from the images they consume daily on their smartphones and computer screens. They will be transported to another world: Liem‘s world in Dak Sau.

I want to create an audio-visually stunning and intense film that will pull its audience into its world, so that the experience of watching the film in the cinema may feel like a retreat itself. After watching the film, I want my audience to ask themselves ”Is there a place for me to retreat to?“.

Franziska von Stenglin

Franziska von Stenglin was born in Munich and grew up in the Czech Republic, Senegal, India and Germany. She studied photography in London and art at the Städelschule in Frankfurt/Main. As an artist, she often links aspects of her own biography with local myths and stories in her projects. Her installations are often based on metaphorical photographs and filmic works. In doing so, she incorporates the entire exhibition space and creates narratives of everyday places, people and their stories that she encounters on her travels and artist residencies. In 2016, she made her first short film “I’m A Stranger Here Myself”. The Dust Of Modern Life is her first feature length film. She currently lives and works in Berlin.


The Dust of Modern Life, Pa Va Hêng (2021)
I‘m A stranger Here Myself (2016)